Posted by: Brad Nixon | January 17, 2018

Visiting the Dead; New Orleans Cemetery Tourism

At first glance, traveling across the U.S. reveals a degree of similarity from state to state, region to region. Although the weather and vegetation change, the highways in and out of our cities and towns are lined with identical retail businesses; the shopping malls, restaurants and big box stores provide little to differentiate Indianapolis, Atlanta, Denver, Jacksonville from a hundred other towns.

The differences, though, are myriad, if sometimes subtle. Geography, climate, architecture and a thousand other details vary. Agriculture in Pennsylvania is different from farming in Missouri. Generations of exposure to mass media and increased mobility have softened some regional accents, but they’re still with us.

A Place Apart

Most travelers who’ve seen a wide variety of the American scene agree that one particular U.S. city is not only noticeably different, but unique, with a character and je ne sais quoi pas unlike anywhere else: New Orleans.

New Orleans balconies Brad Nixon 9147 (640x520)

Thanks to a convergence of climate, geography and history, the Crescent City is a riot of difference: architecture, food, speech and music. Founded as a French city, ceded to Spain, then briefly returned to France before Napoleon sold it (and much more) to the new United States in the Louisiana Purchase, New Orleans is an amalgam of cultures.

New Orleans leafy balcony Brad Nixon 9140 (640x480)

Interestingly, all but a handful of those landmark 18th Century buildings in the French Quarter — le Vieux Carré — were constructed during the period of Spanish control.

New Orleans 2 balcony house Brad Nixon 9105 (640x515)

More influences intruded as the 1804 revolution in Haiti flooded the city with refugees, doubling its population and shifting the demographics to more than 60 per cent persons with black skin, from extremely different cultures than the rest of the United States. Their presence permanently influenced nearly every aspect of life in New Orleans.

Cities of the Dead

As I’ve explained before, I don’t go out of my way to visit the resting places of even the most famous individuals. Despite several trips to Paris, I’ve never seen the most visited cemetery in the world, Père Lachaise, to pay my respects to any of the giants of literature buried there: Wilde, Proust, Balzac, Molière or Jim Morrison. I live in a city with numerous cemeteries chock-full of deceased celebrities, but can’t tell you off the top of my head where Marilyn Monroe or Groucho Marx are buried. (A word about visiting the L.A. resting places of celebrities appears below.)

In New Orleans, one can find interesting architecture not only along the streets of the old quarter, but in its cemeteries, too. In my opinion, they’re distinctive enough to warrant spending an hour or two visiting them. Thanks to the city’s elevation at or below mean sea level and the surface of the Mississippi River, subterranean burial isn’t practical. The cemeteries are replete with a diverse array of mausoleums.

NO St Louis cemetery Brad Nixon 9166 (640x497)

The oldest of the New Orleans cemeteries is St. Louis Cemetery Number 1, established in 1789. It’s a chaotic jumble of funerary monuments in a welter of styles.

NO St Louis cemetery Brad Nixon 9169 (640x480)

Expressions range from traditional to genuinely eccentric.

NO St Louis cemetery Brad Nixon 9170 (640x480)

As it happens, that pyramid is the intended final abode for the actor, Nicholas Cage.

As you roam around New Orleans, you’ll encounter other old burial grounds. You can stroll through most of them on your own, like Lafayette Cemetery Number 1, from early in the 19th Century, in the Garden District.

New Orleans cemetery Brad Nixon 9095 (640x480)

Lafayette is more formally laid out than St. Louis, with broad avenues to accommodate funeral processions. It contains some well-known residents, including notable fictional ones: the Vampire Lestat and the Mayfair witches.

After all, the supernatural and occult have a place in the New Orleans mystique. Those Haitians, as well as African slaves who fled to the city brought more than lifestyle, music and food; they brought Voodoo. (The roots of New Orleans Voodoo are a complex hybrid). When you visit New Orleans, you’ll encounter Voodoo shops, souvenirs and experiences, including offers of Voodoo-oriented tours of the cemeteries. The Voodoo tour of St. Louis Cemetery Number 1, for example, promises a visit to the resting place of the purported Voodoo Queen, Marie Laveau. There are also tours of haunted buildings, etc.

I’ve taken and recommend the St. Louis Cemetery tour offered by the nonprofit Save Our Cemeteries. Yes, they’ll show you Ms. Laveau’s tomb, as well as many others, providing a look into the city’s history and heritage, with a rich sample of interesting personalities interred at St. Louis (or the other cemeteries they tour). Plus, much of your tour fee contributes to maintenance and preservation of the old cemeteries.

Memento homo ….

Do bear in mind as you walk through any cemetery that it’s not a theme park; a degree of respect and decorum is appropriate to both the living and the dead. Many of the monuments are in precarious condition; leave them alone.

NO St Louis cemetery Brad Nixon 9177 (480x640)

Visiting St. Louis and Lafayette Cemeteries

St. Louis Cemetery Number 1 is at 425 Basin St. at the intersection with St. Louis St. on the north edge of the French Quarter (map below, red flag). You cannot enter St. Louis #1 except on a tour. Reservations are recommended; check the website here for schedule and details.

Lafayette Cemetery #1 (map, red rectangle)is at 1416-1498 Washington Ave. You can enter and see it on your own, as I did, but tours are available at this link.

New Orleans cemeteries map Google

A Word on L.A. Celebrity Cemeteries

In keeping with my “western skies” mission of informing you about the world of Los Angeles, I can recommend an expert on “who’s where” among my city’s famous dead (there are a lot of them).

Steve Goldstein’s devoted decades to tracking down and recording “The Famous, the Infamous, and the Just Plain Dead” in L.A. cemeteries. Much of the information is available at www.BeneathLosAngeles.com and in his book, LA’s Graveside Companion, Where the VIPs RIP.

Have you been to New Orleans? What were your impressions? Leave a comment.

Most of the photographs in this post and select images from other Under Western Skies posts are available on Shutterstock.com. Click on the linked photos, or CLICK HERE to view the Underawesternsky photo portfolio.

© Brad Nixon 2018. Map © Google.


Responses

  1. I would love to the New Orleans.

    Like

  2. I’ve read a lot about NOLA, about the French quarter and so on and so forth, but never about its cemeteries! Mr Cage gained a couple of points of approval for his choice of tomb, may he see it as late as possible!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. If you’re interested in cemeteries, try the U.S. Congress. It doesn’t get any deader than that! 😂

    Like

  4. Excellent pictures, very interesting cemetaries in the “Big Easy”

    Liked by 1 person


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